Dake the star, but others in on the act
Notes: Big names dominate early at DI championships
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Make no mistake, Cornell’s Kyle Dake is the talk of the town this week. A senior, Dake is chasing history, looking to join the only two names on wrestling’s Mount Rushmore -- Pat Smith and Cael Sanderson.
Dake may be the star of this show, but the field at the 2013 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships rivals the recent Oscar race. In other words, there should probably be more than one Outstanding Wrestler Award trophy handed out.
Dake methodically advanced to the second round at 165 pounds with a 3-0 victory on Thursday afternoon. It was his 73rd consecutive victory. During Wednesday’s pre-tournament news conference, Dake spoke of “one match at a time” before he can think about Penn State’s David Taylor, who sits on the opposite side of the bracket as the No. 2 seed.
Any other year Taylor, who won the 165-pound title in 2012 and swept about every award possible, would be the star of the show. A junior, Taylor has two career losses, one to Arizona State’s Bubba Jenkins in the 2011 NCAA finals and earlier this season to Dake in the Southern Scuffle finals. He is a bonus-point machine, adding to that total Thursday with a first-period pin of North Carolina’s John Staudenmayer. Appalachian State’s Zach Strickland is expected to be the next victim on Thursday night.
Not often does a two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist fly under the radar. But that is the case with Iowa’s Matt McDonough. The third seed at 125 pounds picked up a major decision in his opener. He gets Kent State veteran Steve Mitcheff on Thursday night.
Ohio State’s Logan Stieber challenged Olympic bronze medalist Coleman Scott last summer not long after beating Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver in the 133-pound NCAA finals. He remained unbeaten this collegiate season with a pin in the first round. Oliver, the top seed at 149 pounds, also remained perfect with a major decision.
“There is a lot of talent in the tournament this year,” said Oliver, a three-time All-American. “Every weight has somebody that could be OW [Outstanding Wrestler].”
Oliver, who went to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics as a training partner for Scott, joked with Dake, who also was an Olympic training partner, about a possible dream match at 157 pounds.
“Kyle and I were smack-talking [in London] and had some people believing we were going to meet at a weight and wrestle,” said Oliver on Wednesday. “Kyle going at 165 [pounds] and me going at 149 we were going to meet at 157. Kyle backed out …”
And then there is Ed Ruth. Few words can describe the Penn State's 184-pound Ruth. On Thursday afternoon he wrestled all of 28 seconds, pinning Lock Haven’s Fred Garcia. The NCAA champion from last March will take a 29-0 record into Thursday night's session.
Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore (40-0) opened with a major decision. The top seed at 197 pounds, a national champion in 2011, is at the opposite end of the bracket from Penn State’s Quentin Wright, also a senior with a national title under his belt. Wright was one of the few “stars” not to score bonus points in the first session.
Even with all that star power, even with all those national champions, the NCAA decided -- and many fans agree -- that 165 pounds was worthy of special treatment. On Saturday night that weight class will be the last of 10.
“I don’t think it could be bad for wrestling,” said Sanderson, the Penn State head coach, on Wednesday. “You’re going to get a mixed review from coaches and fans based on tradition. If you look at other sports they have a main event and it seems to work, so why not give it a shot?”
“I think it is great for the sport,” Oliver said. “Obviously the [Dake-Taylor] match is a really anticipated match and the audience and all the viewers are going to stay tuned to watch it.”
It’s a good bet, regardless of where they start or finish, that Saturday night’s championship matches will be viewed by record numbers.
Two matches during the first session pitted Iowa against Iowa State in a town probably considered an “Iowa town,” at least in wrestling. The rivals split. At 165 pounds, Iowa State’s Michael Moreno beat Nick Moore 5-3; Iowa’s Ethan Lofthouse returned the favor two weights later, beating Boaz Beard 8-2.
Iowa State qualified seven and pushed four into Thursday night's second round. The Hawkeyes will have seven in the championship bracket when the evening session of Day 1 starts.
However, the biggest crowd burst of the afternoon came thanks to Northern Iowa’s 141-pounder Joey Lazor, who beat Penn State’s Bryan Pearsall 12-4 in a wild match.
By the numbers
When the opening whistle blew at 11 a.m. local time, Wells Fargo Arena was packed. Not every seat in the house was taken, but the 16,980-seat venue had very few available seats. … Five of the 12 seeds at 157 pounds lost in the first round, including fourth-seeded James Green of Nebraska and third-seeded Joey Napoli of Lehigh. All that remains in the bottom half of the bracket is the Nos. 2, 6 and 7 seeds. … Ruth’s 28-second pin was not the fastest of the afternoon. Oklahoma State heavyweight Alan Gelogaev locked up Michigan’s Ben Apland for a throw and ended the bout in 18 seconds. Oregon State heavyweight Chad Hanke had a 42-second pin.